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Ferguson Case Raises Issues Of Criminal Justice System Funding

The U.S. Department of Justice, as had been predicted, sued Ferguson, Mo., yesterday after the city's council said it was being asked to undertake criminal justice reforms that are financially impossible for the taxpayers of the struggling St. Louis suburb. The Christian Science Monitor says that to some, the city council’s vote seemed an attempt to back out of reforms needed to address what the DOJ called endemic racism in Ferguson’s police department. Others, including criminal justice experts, say Ferguson’s complaint has some merit. The Justice Department, after all, did not say how Ferguson should pay for the reforms. The city is $3 million in debt, and even if residents pass a round of property and sales tax increases in April, the city is facing layoffs, officials say.

Ferguson’s situation highlights a broader problem that echoes nationwide, says Lauren-Brooke Eisen of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “All of this circles back to: How do you properly fund the criminal justice system?” she says. “There are so many … ways we fund our criminal justice system that incentivize the wrong outcomes.” The eruption of anger in Ferguson after Michael Brown's death in 2014 had its roots in the city’s struggles to pay its bills. The Justice Department investigation found that the city used its police officers partly as a shakedown crew to fund its operations. “Money is definitely a part of the equation” for municipalities with poor relations between police and citizens, says Bill Johnson of the National Association of Police Organizations in Alexandria, Va. It’s a crucial equation to get right, he adds, because cities’ financial problems are often intertwined with crime problems.

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Cleveland Bills Rice Estate For Ambulance Ride After Officer Shot Him

Cleveland wants the estate of Tamir Rice to pay for the boy's ambulance ride and medical services he received after he was shot by a city police officer, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The city filed a claim in Cuyahoga County Probate Court yesterday notifying Tamir's estate that it owes the city $500 for "ambulance advance life support" and mileage expense for the ambulance ride to MetroHealth Medical Center. "The callousness, insensitivity, and poor judgment required for the city to send a bill—its own police officers having slain 12-year-old Tamir—is breathtaking," said the family's attorney, Subodh Chandra. "This adds insult to homicide."

Chandra represents members of Tamir's family in a civil lawsuit filed against the city. Tamir was shot by a Cleveland police officer Nov. 22, 2014, after he was seen playing with a replica airsoft gun in a park. His family argues hat officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback showed indifference to Tamir's life by not giving him any emergency aid after Loehmann shot him. The officers stood around Tamir for four minutes until an FBI agent arrived at the scene and gave the boy first aid.

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Feds Arrest Rancher Bundy, Move To End Oregon Siege

Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who touched off one armed showdown with federal authorities and applauded another started in Oregon by his sons, was arrested last night on federal charges related to the 2014 standoff at his ranch. The Oregonian reports that the arrest came as the Oregon refuge takeover seemed headed for a finish. The last four occupiers, who have camped alone since Jan. 28 at the headquarters compound, agreed to surrender today after FBI tactical teams infiltrated refuge buildings and hemmed in the occupiers with armored vehicles.

Bundy, 74, faces a conspiracy charge to interfere with a federal officer, the same charge lodged against two of his sons, Ammon and Ryan, for their role in the Jan. 2 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Or. Bundy has been under federal scrutiny since his ranch standoff with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. He has not paid grazing fees on federal land and he owes the agency $1 million in unpaid fees and penalties. He and militia supporters confronted federal agents who had impounded Bundy's cattle that were found on federal property.

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PA Officials Scrambling To Deal With Juvenile Life Without Parole Case

Pennsylvania judges, public defenders, prosecutors, and prison officials are scrambling to catch up to the Supreme Court ruling that made retroactive the earlier decision that automatic life without parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. One consequence, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports: some judges are issuing life-with-parole sentences in a state that doesn't allow parole in life sentences. The ruling affects nearly 500 juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania. It's likely a single judge will be appointed to oversee the process. Bradley Bridge of the Defender Association of Philadelphia hopes to resolve a "significant number" of cases by agreement between the defendants and prosecutors.

Agreements are most likely for inmates who have been in prison the longest, like Joe Ligon, who has served 63 years for crimes committed when he was 15. "It's an unprecedented moment in criminal justice history in the United States and in Philadelphia in terms of the number of cases that require a serious second look," said Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center. One problem: "We can't parole anybody who has a life sentence," says Laura Treaster of the state's Board of Probation and Parole. "We're waiting for further instructions from the courts or from the legislature about how we're supposed to process these cases."

 

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Majority In U.S. Believe There Are Too Many Drug Offenders In Prison

Americans favor changing the way the federal justice system deals with drug offenders, phase out mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of offenses, allow people in federal prison to earn time off their prison terms by participating in programs proven to reduce recidivism, and make other reforms, says the Mellman Group and Public Opinion Stategies. A new survey by the two organizations finds what when they are told that nearly half of federal inmates are behind bars for drug crimes, 61 percent of respondents agree, “That is too many drug criminals taking up too much space in our federal prison system. More of that space should be used for people who have committed acts of violence or terrorism.”

The survey also found that 79 percent of respondents support giving judges the flexibility to determine sentences based on the facts of each case when considering drug offenses, and 77 percent support the same policy for all cases. The polling firms say voters show little desire to keep current 10-year mandatory sentences for drug couriers, street-level dealers, and other low-level actors in drug organizations. Only 20 percent of respondents believe a drug courier or mule who is paid to carry drugs from one location to another should get a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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FL Man Serving 20-Year Mandatory Sentence For Firing A Warning Shot

Lee Wollard, in a Florida prison for firing a gunshot into a wall, feels as if he already has died, but he’s very much alive in a Florida prison, where to many he’s a symbol of the injustice in the justice system, says the Miami Herald. Wollard, 59, is serving a 20-year term for firing a warning shot. Eight years ago, in a flash of fear and rage, he grabbed his gun. He says it was not to kill anyone but to scare away his teenage daughter’s live-in boyfriend. The boy was violent and abusive, court documents and family members say. He had punched Wollard’s daughter Sarah in the head and rammed his fist through a wall of their home in Davenport, Fl.

Wollard didn’t know it, but the moment he fired, he became trapped in the web of a Florida law known as 10-20-Life and its minimum mandatory sentences for crimes involving a gun. The law says that if he were found guilty, he must spend 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with a firearm — even though nobody got hurt. The case has attracted much public and media attention. Groups opposed to minimum mandatory sentences cite it as proof that Florida must change its law. Before Wollard’s trial eight years ago, prosecutors offered him a deal: If he pleaded guilty to a felony, he would get five years probation and no prison time. He refused, and a jury found him guilty. Even the judge who sentenced Wollard agrees that he should go free.

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Kansas City Seeks Solutions To High, Increasing Homicide Rate

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NYC Reviews Evictions Without Allowing Tenants A Court Defense

The Police Department will review the circumstances under which it forces people from their homes using New York City’s nuisance-abatement law, a legal weapon that has been used for decades to shut down drug dens, brothels and other criminal operations, the New York Times reports. The move comes after the New York Daily News and ProPublica raised questions about how the police were employing the law, citing instances in which tenants were either evicted themselves or forced to expel relatives without having the chance to defend themselves in court. The article raised questions about how rigorous some judges were being in exercising oversight in such cases.

Police Commissioner William Bratton, while taking issue with the article’s findings, said the department would examine the law’s use. “Like all programs, we are taking a fresh look at it,” ratton said. “We’re very happy to work with all of our elected officials to take a look. Are there things that we might want to adjust?” Letitia James, the city’s public advocate, told the city’s corporation counsel, Zachary Carter, that the article had exposed “alarming practices.” Bratton said the article contained “a lot of misrepresentation, misinformation” and that the department was prepared to “rebut most of it.” Daily News Editor In Chief James Rich stood by the article.

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Wisconsin Police Report Big Increase In High-Speed Chases, Injuries

The number of high-speed chases reported by Wisconsin police agencies rose dramatically last year, breaking a decade-old record and resulting in more reported injuries, reports the USA Today Network-Wisconsin. Police logged about 1,340 pursuits last year, 432 more than the previous year and 43 more than a 2006 peak. It’s unclear what explains the spike, though law enforcement authorities said greater attention to lapses in state reporting mandates and a rise in Milwaukee carjackings may be contributing factors.

The increase coincided with a USA Today Network-Wisconsin investigation that found police had failed to log many chases and related injuries. Even deaths were unreported, downplaying the danger of chases in statistics produced for lawmakers and the public. After the report was published, police agencies logged dozens of additional chases for the preceding seven months and more pursuits for August 2015 than any month since at least 2002, state documents show. The additional scrutiny doesn’t appear to entirely explain the spike. Police already were logging elevated levels of pursuits in the months leading up to the report. In Milwaukee, which reported the largest increase in pursuits, police Sgt. Tim Gauerke said, "Our city has recently experienced a significant increase in robberies during which vehicles was taken (carjacking). Our officers have located many of these vehicles and have pursued them.".

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Two Maryland Deputies Killed By Vagrant At Restaurant

Two Maryland sheriff’s deputies were killed yesterday by an armed man at a Panera Bread restaurant, the Washington Post reports. The gunman was fatally shot by authorities after he shot the two deputies. Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler announced the deaths of the deputies, who had worked for 16 and 30 years. The shooter was David Brian Evans, 68, who was wanted on a warrant from Florida for assaulting a police officer there.

Gahler said Evans entered a Panera in Abingdon, Md., during the busy lunchtime rush, Someone called the police to say that a man was behaving suspiciously. When a deputy arrived, Evans shot the deputy and then ran out the door. Another deputy found Evans down the hill from the restaurant. Evans then shot that deputy. The next two deputies who arrived then fired at the gunman, fatally wounding him. County Executive Barry Glassman described Evans as a vagrant, the Baltimore Sun reports.

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TCR at a Glance

What 'Ferguson Effect'?

new & notable February 5, 2016

Despite speculation that police anger over anti-cop protests following the 2014 killing of an unarmed young black man by a white police o...

'Locked Up and Shipped Away'

new & notable February 2, 2016

The number of inmates transferred to private prisons outside their home states decreased by about 3,000 in the last two years, but for-pr...